I’m an idiot

It’s been an eventful basement week, but a frustrating one, as well. Some of the frustration has not been my fault at all. The rest has been because, well, I’m an idiot.

Let’s start with the receiver and the speakers. When last we talked, I was looking forward to testing out the receiver with all five installed speakers. But there was a problem. (The problem actually showed up in the initial test, but I was hoping it would be easily resolved. It was, but it took some doing to figure out what needed to be resolved.) Here was the thing: The system sounded fantastic. Crystal clear. Awesome. Powerful. For about five minutes. Then the amp would go into protect mode and shut down.

At first, I thought it was because of the heavy gauge speaker wire I was using. The receiver, for some reason, only uses banana clip inputs for two speakers, the front left and right speakers. The rest have the cheap spring clip connectors. The 12-gauge wire was too thick to fit in the opening well, and bunched up. I figured stray strands from adjacent clips were touching and causing a short. So I ordered a set of pin plugs, which are like banana plugs, but thinner, and designed to fit in the spring clips. They arrived, and I connected them to the cables and plugged them in. Everything was golden for about 10 minutes, then the same thing happened.

I looked at the troubleshooting section of the manual for the receiver. It said to try the center speaker alone, and if that worked ok, add the other speakers one at a time until the problem was isolated. If it wasn’t ok, the unit probably needed servicing.

I tried it with just the center speaker. Had the same result. The pin plugs, though, didn’t seem all that stable (and, oddly, the outside of the plugs is conductive; Amazon reviews warned they needed to be wrapped in electric tape or they might cause shorts. So I clipped off a couple sections of the pin to see if they’d set better and wrapped them all up. Same result. I even tried just the center speaker with a section of the old 18-gauge speaker wire I’d taken out. Same thing. So I got on a Sony online tech support chat. Not helpful. They pointed me to the troubleshooting section I’d already worked through. Finally, they asked when it had last worked as expected. I said, “Never.” They suggested sending it in for servicing.

I had bought the receiver back in December from Amazon. It was past the 30-day return window, but Amazon is rightly renowned for its customer service, so I started an online chat there and explained the situation. They lived up to expectations and shipped out a new unit, overnight. When it arrived, I plugged it in and hooked up the speakers, Blu-ray and projector. About 15 minutes in, it cut out, just like the old one. (Sorry, Amazon.)

But this made me realize that the troubleshooting suggestions for the receiver seemed predicated on the center speaker not having an issue. And, clearly, mine did. So I took it out of the wall and looked it over. Everything looked fine. I had a spare speaker since I had ordered a set of six and only needed five (three front and two sides). I compared it to the spare (I would have just put in the spare, but that would have meant painting it, and I’m lazy). They looked the same. But then I checked the connections a little closer. The solder seemed solid to the tweeter. The mid-range connection wasn’t visible. The woofer was connected with two pins, which looked fine, but when I looked closer, the red wire looked just a tiny bit off. I took it off and reseated it. It seemed more solid, but it was such a small thing, I wondered if it would matter.

I put it back in the wall, put on a movie and waited. I went back upstairs and worked, waiting to hear the audio from the movie (the 2009 Star Trek — lots of explosions) cut out. It didn’t. A half-hour in, I started to breathe easier. An hour in, I figured that must have been it.

And, apparently, I was right. (Again, really sorry about that, Amazon.)

So, about the five-speaker test: Awesome. I turned the receiver up to 39 and felt almost like I was in a movie theater. Crystal clear dialogue. Loud explosions. That was about as loud as I thought I’d need to go in most cases. I figured the receiver probably went to 50, like my old system upstairs. But what if I was wrong? I paused the movie and hit the volume up button. 40. 45. 50. 55. 60. 65. 75. 80. It goes to 100, people. I doubt I’ll ever take it much past 50, but, wow. (Sorry, neighbors.)

Ok, so why am I an idiot? I put in the switches, outlets and light fixture in the bathroom today. The light fixture was a complete pain. I must be really awful at mounting the outlet box for light fixtures. Once more, it was set further back from the wall board than really worked. I tried a few workarounds that didn’t work (and almost, swear to God, used a wooden shim to hold it in place permanently until my wife said, “Um, would that be a fire hazard?”). I did a Google search and found that there’s a product actually designed for this situation, a spacer that goes around the screw between the mounting bracket and the outlet box. I went and bought a package and got the bracket out flush with the wall. But fixture didn’t want to go on right, and the screw that locked the fixture to the bracket wouldn’t go in. The holes didn’t line up. Lots of expletives later, I had about given up when a friend brought his son over to play with mine. He was checking out the basement progress, and I showed him the fixture. Between the two of us, we got it secured, bending the bracket in a couple of places to line everything up.

Then, I installed the outlet for the projector, which I remembered I had wired off the bathroom circuit.

I powered up the circuit. Everything worked. The light worked. Both outlets had power. The fan worked. Then I went to the projector outlet. Dead. Another expletive or two. I checked everything I could think of, but I figured the splice at the light fixture must have worked loose somehow. Which meant I’d need to unmount it. Sigh.

So, I did. I unscrewed the screw that had been so hard to get in. I gently pulled the fixture off the mounting bracket and let it hang against the wall. Then I tried to get to the splice that should have carried the power to the projector outlet. I had to pull out a lot of other wires that had been tucked in there. In doing so, I pulled the negative wire to the fixture pulled loose from the pigtail. Then, before I could react, the other four wires pulled loose from their pigtails and the lamp crashed to the ground, the glass shades shattering.

That earned one huge expletive that I’m hoping my son and his friend were too busy to notice.

I decided, despite my mounting frustration level, to at least check the splice and see if I could figure out the problem. There wasn’t one. It was fine. Luckily, the wall behind the bathroom is unfinished. I figured maybe the cable going from the bathroom to the projector outlet had a short. I realized that my handy circuit detector could read current even through the insulation of a cable. So I re-energized the circuit to see if the cable was energized coming out of the outlet box. Oddly, it was. Then I checked to see if it was energized going into the box. It wasn’t, but when I accidentally brushed a nearby cable with the circuit detector, it lit up. It was the cable that was going to eventually power an outlet at the wet bar. It shouldn’t have been live.

That’s when I realized I’m an idiot. I had misremembered my circuit plan. The cable from the bathroom was going to the wet bar outlet, NOT the projector outlet. The projector outlet was the first outlet in a series of outlets in the home theater room. Once I got those hooked up and energized the proper circuit, the projector outlet worked just fine.

Which means I didn’t have to take the bathroom light fixture down. Which means I could have avoided breaking it.

If only I weren’t an idiot.

Batting 500 on color selection

The first coat of green, freshly applied. It dried very nicely.

The first coat of green, freshly applied. It dried very nicely.

The camera just can't capture it.

The camera just can’t capture it.

My wife and I spent a couple of nights last week painting in the basement. Thankfully, the going was much easier on top of the primer than it had been on naked wall board. The first night, we got the home theater room painted. The color turned out awesome. Though mocked by one friend when he saw the sample as “ping pong-table green,” it came out with a deep, dark richness that’s exactly what I wanted in the room.

The second night, I put on a second coat of the dark green, then helped Shannon finish the light green for the office. Did I say light green? I meant BRIGHT green. The image to the right is the color, but the camera doesn’t begin to capture the experience of being in the room and surrounded by this blindingly bright green. It doesn’t even come close. The color in the photo is actually more subdued than what we were aiming for, while the color in reality is in way more of a party mood than we counted on. We let it sit for a couple of days to see if it would mellow out when it dried, and we’re waiting to see what it looks like under the LED lighting as opposed to the incandescent glare of the current lights (something I hope we’ll be able to do this weekend; more on that later). But right now, we both see the need to do something about this. We may take the leftover paint back to the store and have them add more white to see if that can tone down the second coat. Or maybe we’ll find another color altogether and paint over it.

Then again, maybe we’ll just rent the space out as a green screen studio for local film productions. It would totally work.

Painting the grills.

Painting the grills.

The right surround speaker, without the grill.

The right surround speaker, without the grill.

This weekend, I painted the speaker trim and grills. I’d wrestled with how to do it. Online, some people swore spray painting was the only way to go. But I don’t have a spray painter, and it seemed like you had to get the dilution and spray levels just right to achieve good results. So I took other advice, and got a cheap 4″ foam roller. For the grills, I got just a little bit of paint on and then rolled most of it off onto a newspaper. It worked pretty well, though, as warned, it took numerous coats. The trim was a little easier, but still took a few coats, and still isn’t quite perfect. For the three speakers behind the screen, that won’t matter, but the two side speakers should look as good as possible.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

Then I moved onto installing switches, dimmers and outlets while Shannon painted the half bath. The most complicated was the triple-gang box that will house three dimmers for the home theater. I’m using Insteon dimmer switches that, if all goes right, will allow me to program settings that can be activated with a universal remote so that when I press play on the Blu-Ray, for instance, the lights will all dim to preset levels. I also wanted to be able to turn out all the lights in the theater with one switch. So the three dimmers will be powered off the three-way switch at the bottom of the stairs and another around the corner heading into the office.

So, I had three dimmers, cables out to three sets of lights and the cable in from the three-way switch at the bottom of the stairs. To get everything (hopefully) to work properly, I needed to pigtail the incoming black line to the black wires from the dimmers, then connect the red load lines from each dimmer to the respective black wires going out to each set of lights. Then came the tough part: I had to pigtail ALL the white neutral lines (which is what Insteon switches use to communicate with each other) together. One in, three out and three from the dimmers. Seven wires in one pigtail. I didn’t have a wiring nut rated for seven 14-gauge wires. (I’m not even sure one exists.) So I ended up pigtailing three in one, and four in the other, with a splice between them. You can see the photo of the resulting mess. To be honest, I’m not sure all the wires will fit in the box. Once I energize the circuit and make sure the configuration works, I’ll try to fit them. If I can’t, I may have to shorten some of the wires and redo the pigtails.

It looks lit up, but that's just from the flash.

It looks lit up, but that’s just from the flash.

Now we just need the screen ... and a ceiling, and a floor...

Now we just need the screen … and a ceiling, and a floor…

The original LEDs I ordered from eBay didn’t arrive. Apparently, there was a recall of the bulbs, and the seller got caught short. He gave me a prompt refund* and I found another seller who shipped out Philips EnduraLED 17 watt PAR38 bulbs for less than $20 each. Those have been screwed into the recessed lights. Then I hooked up the sconces that will go on either side of the projection screen. I think they’ll look good. Installing them was harder than it should have been, though, because both outlet boxes ended up crooked, and one side was further away from the wall board. I bought longer screws, but still had trouble getting the mounting bracket in an appropriate position so the mounting pin extended far enough out to secure the plate of the light fixture. Finally, I had to resort to inserting a wooden shim behind the bracket to hold it in position. When I got the plate over the pin, I slipped the shim out and was able to screw the cap on. It took some trial and error, repeating that process, before I got the mounting pin screwed in to the appropriate length to get a nice tight grip against the wall.

I had the same problem with the second sconce, and attempted a similar solution, but it just wasn’t working quite as well. Then I noticed that, in addition to the slot I had put the screws threw in the other bracket, there were a couple of holes on the bracket. One lined up just right with the hole on the outlet box. So, I put the screw threw there, then, holding it tight against the wall, screwed it in to the outlet box. That resulted in a much sturdier mount. (And a silent “D’oh!” aimed at myself.)

Installing outlets also seemed much harder and more frustrating than it needed to be. The wiring is simple enough: The black wires go on the brass screws; the white wires go on the silver screws and the ground wire goes on the green screw. But actually getting the wires onto the screws was tougher than I thought. You have to bend them into just the right C shape, then hook them around and pull them tight so you can tighten the screw. It sounds easy, and sometimes it was. But getting the last black wire on the first outlet took a good 10 minutes and nearly exhausted my arsenal of expletives. I got better as I went. When the first circuit was all hooked up, I flicked the switch and used a tester on the outlets. They all worked!

I think one of the stories I’ve told on myself is that I misunderstood the code and overdid the number of outlets. I thought the code called for spacing outlets six feet apart. Well, that didn’t work, because the frames you hang the outlet boxes on don’t fall six feet. So I fudged a little and spaced them closer to 6 1/2-feet to 7 1/2-feet, except in the office, where — knowing there’d be a lot of computer and music equipment, I erred on putting them closer together. But it turns out that that what the code actually says is that no place along a wall should be more than six feet from an outlet. So, technically, the outlets can be spaced up to 12 feet apart. I discovered that after I hung the boxes, but decided to keep things the way they were, because no one ever complained about having too many outlets in a room. Yesterday, I was seriously questioning that decision.

In any case, once the outlets are all in, I’ll switch over from the current incandescent lights to the LEDs, and we’ll see just how horrible that bright green will actually be.

* Oh, and if you’re curious, the lamp arrived for the projector. I installed it, and the projector powered up just fine. After I installed the front speakers, I did a quick test with the Blu-Ray player hooked up to the amp and the projector sitting on the table about three feet from the wall. The picture was small with the projector that close, but the picture is fantastic and the sound, even with just three speakers hooked up, was tremendous. Once the outlet is installed to power the projector, I want to try a test with the projector mounted to make sure the HDMI run between the wall and the ceiling works. I’ll hook up five of the seven speakers then, and give it a good test run. I’ve got very high hopes based on the first test.

Moisture-resistant drywall green

The drywall finishers are done. They did a fine job covering up my mistakes. While it was nice to take the weekend off, it was also good to take the space back over again. It felt strange to have someone else working in my basement.

The walls are primed.I spent a good part of Saturday attempting to get the drywall dust under control. It coated everything. I’d covered furniture, tools and miscellany with plastic, and put up some plastic sheeting over the doorway to the unfinished storage area. The stuff directly under the sheeting was fine. The stuff in the storage area will need a LOT of dusting. I tried to mop up the floors, but when they dried I realized I’d mostly just spread the dust around.

The color choices for the home theater (left) and the home office (right).

The color choices for the home theater (left) and the home office (right).

Then it was time to prime. Home Depot had a great sale: $44 for 5 gallons of Kilz new drywall primer. It was supposed to cover up to 2,000 square feet, but new drywall is thirsty. I got both big rooms and the hallway primed, but the bathroom is still moisture-resistant drywall green. Which, oddly enough, is pretty close to the color we settled on for the home theater. The home office will be a lighter shade of green.

Painting is harder work than I remember. My father-in-law assured me that lots of things I did 10 or 20 years ago will now be harder than I remember.

With the primer, the walls are really looking like walls. The finishers seem to have done a good job. The few floor-to-ceiling butt joints I ended up putting in all look flat now that there’s a coat of paint. The stairway transition looks pretty good, too. It’s beginning to look like a real space.

The projector arrived. Unfortunately, it failed to power-up. The lamp light flashed red, indicating a bad lamp. I was perturbed, but the seller was quite responsive. He offered a full refund, but I suggested he could just pay for a new lamp. He found an OEM lamp and is having it shipped to me. As much as eBay makes me nervous, I’ve yet to have a truly horrible experience.

The LEDs, though, haven’t shipped yet. I contacted that seller, also. He said they were on back-order. If they aren’t in by Monday, he’ll refund the sale, and I guess I’ll buy $25 dollar LEDs through Amazon.

While I would kind of like to see the paint colors under the actual lighting before we make the final final call, I’m leaning towards painting the walls before I hook up the lights and switches, just because it is so much easier to paint when you don’t have to worry about painting over switches or outlets or trim.

Anyway, we appear to be reaching a very fun part of the project where progress really starts to look like progress. Keep checking back to see how it goes.

Basement update

For the first time in what seems like months, I took a weekend at home off from the basement work. The drywall finisher got started Friday, and won’t be back until today to do more work. There were things I could have done, but I needed the weekend off to give a carpal tunnel flare-up time to get better. Hanging the drywall turned out to really exacerbate that. I ended up getting a cortisone injection last week, and thought I owed it to myself to take a break.

But, even aside from the work that someone else is doing, progress is being made. My wife and I have been looking at paint samples, trying to decide on colors. We’re thinking a dark green for the home theater room and a lighter shade for the home office. Maybe a terra cotta for the half-bath and an accent wall in the home office. Once the drywall is finished, I’ll put up a coat of primer. Since we’ll want to see the color samples in the appropriate light, we had to make the call over whether we’d go with LED or CFLs for the recessed lighting. For several reasons, we decided to invest in LEDs. First, the quality of CFLs has gotten extremely variable. Some don’t dim well. They don’t come on right away. The colors, even for identical brands, don’t match. From what I’ve heard, LEDs have fewer of those issues. They also use far less electricity and are supposed to last 20 years or more.

So the LEDs have been ordered. I found some dimmable Sylvania LED bulbs for about $18 per in quantity. Others go for more than $50 a bulb, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these will be decent, despite the “low” price.

Once the bulbs are in and the switches wired, we’ll check some paint samples and figure out which colors we like the best. We’re also trying to decide what to do about the flooring. We were considering laminate, but are leaning toward bamboo or cork right now.

I also went ahead and ordered the projector. I’ve been keeping my eye on eBay listings for the Epson 8350 projector. It had been running close to $1,200, but I found a new, open-box listing for $925. Again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. But the seller has a 100 percent rating (same for the light-bulb vendor), so I’m pretty hopeful.

Next weekend will probably entail priming, wiring switches and outlets and, perhaps, putting up ceiling insulation.

The drywall is hung

The last wall

The last wall

The beer to celebrate the last wall.

The beer to celebrate the last wall.

I put up the last piece of dryall late yesterday afternoon. To be honest, I probably should have quit about an hour before then. I was tired and frustrated, which always leads to stupid mistakes, and a rash of expletives. The last few sheets all seemed to fall just a little off, leaving next to no overlap with the stud. I had to angle the screws in just right to sink them into the stud without being at such an extreme angle the screw head would stick out.

Finally, with the last panel, I realized that it would be easier to attach some pieces of wood to the stud to act as nailers. That worked very well.

So, in  my tiredness and frustration, I made a few stupid mistakes. A cut-out for an outlet ended up being three inches too low (I’m pretty sure that was a result of not paying attention to where the measurement starts on the T-square). You can see the resulting long hole in the photo of the last wall. I screwed in a couple pieces of wood so I can attach a filler scrap in.

Another panel didn’t quite reach the top plate in one corner. It was still possible to anchor it, though, and the gap will be covered by ceiling trim. So I’ll probably either just screw up a small drywall scrap to cover the gap or squirt in some foam insulation before the ceiling and trim go up.

This came out a little sloppier than intended. Hopefully, the finisher can work with it. If not, I'll try to redo it.

This came out a little sloppier than intended, which you can see if you click on the photo. Hopefully, the finisher can work with it. If not, I’ll try to redo it.

I’ll call the finisher a friend recommended today for an estimate. There are a couple of areas I want to point out to make sure my sloppy work can be covered up in the finishing process, especially the transition at the bottom of the basement stairs. I’ll hold onto a couple pieces of scrap board just in case I need to redo it.

Frustration and exhaustion aside, I was very happy to have the drywall done. The celebratory beer tasted great. As I’ve mentioned, the drywall has been both the most physically demanding and the most mentally challenging aspect of the project so far. Though it hasn’t been the most time-consumming (the wiring wins that prize), it’s definitely felt like the biggest, hardest piece of the puzzle, and I’m glad to have it behind me.

It’s not all downhill from here. The ceiling and floor installations will have their own challenges, I’m sure. But I feel like I’m over the hump. The space is really coming together.

Closing in on finishing the drywall

The longest wall.

The longest wall.

I came out better than the sheet of drywall.

I came out better than the sheet of drywall.

I made good progress on the drywall today, finishing the longest wall in the basement. As I had hoped, it went up pretty quickly. It was an easy wall, with just a few outlets, a drain access and one switch to cut out, and the studs were properly spaced for the most part, so the drywall fit the way it was supposed to. I did come across a couple of bowed studs, but I fixed them right up the same way I did the other: Saw the stud in half at the middle of the bow, sister a two-foot length of stud to the side with eight screws so that the stud is now straight. Worked like a charm.

Then I started on the last wall in the home theater area. That’s where it got a little interesting. I made the cuts I needed for the first sheet: A two-gang switch, an outlet box and an opening for the plumbing and electric to where the wet bar will be. The cuts were perfect, on the first try. I laid down some construction adhesive on the studs and got the sheet in place. It seemed stable. I bent over to pick up the screw gun, and BAM! Wallboard over my back. The wallboard snapped in half. Once I recovered from the shock of having a sheet of drywall drop over me, I realized I was fine.

But it worked out in the end.

But it worked out in the end.


The finish is a little rough, but some tape and compound will take care of it, and if it shows a little bit, it won’t matter much. Most of the cut will be covered by the wet bar.

But I had a problem. I had just ordered eight more sheets of drywall because I had underestimated the first go around. I thought that left me an extra sheet, but I realized it didn’t. I had estimated just right. Except for not anticipating losing a sheet to a fall. So I decided to go ahead and put it up in two pieces. It worked out pretty well. The break wasn’t totally clean, but it ought to be alright with some tape and joint compound.

Even if it ends up a little rough, it will just be a reminder of the adventure. And most of it will be covered by the wet bar, anyway.

I have three more sheets to put up to finish the last theater wall, then four sheets to finish the last wall in the office, then the drywall will be done. I should be able to finish tomorrow.

I’m pretty sure I’ve decided to have a pro do the taping and mudding. I’ve about had enough of the drywall. Once the drywall’s finished, we get to paint. That should be fun, and it’s something my wife can help with. Then I’ll get the fireplace ready for the faux stone and get ready to put up ceiling. Things are coming together.

Drywall, weekend 2

Making progress

Making progress

As promised, my friend Greg came into town this weekend to help with the drywalling. Unfortunately, an unexpected work issue meant he had to leave this morning, leaving me on my own for Sunday.

But we got quite a bit done yesterday (including a Bacon Explosion, but that’s a different story).

The bathroom is finished, along with about two-and-half other walls in the home theater room. Okay, maybe two-and-a-third walls.

Angles. Should have paid more attention in geometry.

Angles. Should have paid more attention in geometry.

A few things took longer than we expected. First, finishing the bathroom. That really was the hardest room. Second, figuring out how to make the transition from the finished stairs to the basement. We decided to angle some drywall down, which meant we needed to cut some 2x4s to nail the drywall to. It took a stupid amount of time for the two of us (both with advanced degrees) to figure out how to make the cuts. In fact, we couldn’t even figure out how to figure it out. Finally, through a combination of trial and error and a speed square, we came up with a template that worked.

Then of course, there was the usual stuff: trying to keep track of tools, cutting holes in the wrong places, etc. But, still, we got a good amount done (including, yes, the Bacon Explosion).

The bowed stud, still not straightened out.

The bowed stud, still not straightened out.

I ran into a few aggravations today, including a bowed stud. It’s bowed inward pretty severely. I could just attach a stud beside it, but there’s an outlet box on the stud. At this point, the box doesn’t even reach the drywall sheet. I tried one fix I read about online — cutting into the stud midway into the bow and then inserting a shim to stretch it. That didn’t work. Then I tried a second cut, and ended up with a notch. I’ll figure that out next weekend.

I’m pretty sure all the hard walls are done. There will be outlet boxes to cut out, and a few holes for switches and such. But the angles and multiple cuts for the home theater speakers and jacks are all done. I doubt I’ll finish next weekend, but I’m thinking the next weekend I have to work on it (probably the third weekend in March because of travel) will do it.

We’ll see.

Drywalling is incredibly messy. Dust is everywhere — and I understand the finishing process is even worse. I’m leaning more and more toward paying someone to do that, but we’ll see. I need to spend an hour or two just cleaning up from the last couple of weekends before I get to work making more mess.

Update: I meant to mention this before I published the post, but drywalling is not just messy, it’s hard. This is the most physically demanding part of the basement project so far. And probably the most mentally taxing, too. It’s very easy to get mixed up about how a sheet of drywall will be oriented when it goes on the wall and make the cut in the wrong place. I caught myself, actually, before doing that this afternoon. Unfortunately, I did not catch myself before cutting the same sheet an inch short. Click on the first picture in this post. See that sheet laying on its side? That’s the one. The cut for the outlet is perfectly positioned. Unfortunately, the sheet is too short to reach the top plate. I’m hoping to be able to use the sheet elsewhere. So, the upshot is, I moving around like an 80-year-old man, and my brain is fried. But, you know what? I’m still having a good time. And when this is done and I’m watching a movie on a huge projection screen and enjoying a cold draft from the wet bar, this whole experience will be hugely satisfying.

Three walls up

The soffit gets the first piece of drywall.

The soffit gets the first piece of drywall.

I didn’t make nearly as much progress on the drywall as I hoped this weekend. I started with the bathroom at the suggestion of one of my DIY mentors. Better to do the small room first, as I discovered, and as he suggested, so you can bring in the larger sheets of drywall through the open studs. But the bathroom has some of the most difficult walls I’ll face. There was an angled soffit to work around, for one thing, along with all the pipes for the sink and the toilet. Then, just to make things really interesting, I remembered that the right wall ended up being about a half inch off square vertically, thanks to a mismounted top plate.


The first wall.

So, the bottom line, after two days of work, I’ve finished three walls. One more wall, and the bathroom will be done (except for actually getting the drywall in place, this should be the easiest wall with only one outlet box to cut out).

What happens when you cut the hole too tight.

What happens when you cut the hole too tight.

I’ve learned a lot so far, though. I learned that the book I ordered was right: It’s better to not try for a glove-tight fit with the drywall pieces. Up to a quarter-inch gap can be covered with mud and tape, and it’s better not to try to force tight pieces into place. I learned that I was right to worry about cutting openings for boxes. The first one I cut too tight and it cracked when I put in a drywall screw near it — just as the book warned. The second one I cut had too big of a gap. Both will need some mudding and possibly taping. For the box for the light fixture, I marked it, tacked up the drywall, but didn’t put in any screws close to the box, then cut around it in place. It still wasn’t perfect, but I think that’s the way to go.

I learned it’s a really, really good idea to mark studs before you start screwing up the drywall. It’s also a good idea to remember that you marked the studs after you mark them in a less than conspicuous place. I’ve learned that missing a stud when screwing in a drywall screw is a pain and leaves a hole that will have to be patched later.

I learned it’s better to quit when I’m getting tired than try to make the right cuts on a complicated wall. I ended up doing the cut out for the soffit on the wrong side. I was able to use the bulk of that sheet to span the doorway, so I didn’t waste too much, other than time.


Wall number three. A cut out for the soffit, four pipes, a drain access and a box for the light fixture.

On the plus side, I learned that cutting drywall is actually pretty easy, especially with a drywall square to guide you. You simply lightly score the drywall on one side, cutting through just the paper, not the gypsum underneath. Then you bend the drywall back away from that line. It should pop pretty evenly along the cut, hinged by the backing paper. Bend the drywall at an angle to give yourself a good guide and slice the backing paper away. The only time this doesn’t work well is if you’re trying to make a very small cut — an inch or less. Then you either want to cut both sides of the paper or, if it’s a quarter-inch or so, just rasp it down. That creates a lot of dust, but it makes for a cleaner edge than trying to break off that small amount of gypsum.

I would have liked to have gotten more done, but, even so, I’m pretty satisfied. Next weekend, a friend is coming into town to help, so there should be much more progress. Even without the help, it should go faster. I’m learning more, and the walls will be longer and easier.

Are you ready for some drywall?

Half the drywall.

Half the drywall.

The preliminary inspections have all been passed. The insulation is in. Finally everything is ready for the drywall.

Which works out well, because I just had 38 sheets of drywall delivered, along with the supplies to hang and finish it. To be honest, it doesn’t look like enough drywall to do the job, but I triple-checked my figures. The stack to the right is just half the drywall. The other half is in the other room.

So, am I ready for this? I guess so. I bought a book about hanging drywall, and have been asking friends and advisors for pointers. I have a dimpler driver, a special bit that’s  supposed to make it easy to set drywall screws just right: So the screw ends up just below the surface of the panel without breaking the paper. That’s important because the paper is what keeps the panel’s structural integrity intact against the pressure of the screw. If you break the paper, you have to set another screw next to it, and hope you get it right the second time. You want the screw head just below the surface so you can mud over it so the screw doesn’t show through the finish.

I’ve got a few other miscellaneous drywall tools: a rasp, a lifter and top-rated drywall knife. I’m most concerned about cutting holes for outlets and switches and things without messing anything up. Accuracy’s very important with that to avoid  having to patch around a box if the gap’s too wide.



Before I get started, though, I have a couple minor framing issues to take care of. Remember the angled soffit in the bathroom? (Sure, you do.) I had redone that with a better angle for a smaller soffit. But as I was looking at things earlier in the week, I realized I’d done a really horrible job mounting the studs, or at least one of them. It was at a visible angle, and was far from level with the other stud. So, I need to get that put properly in place. Then I realized another mistake I made in framing the bathroom: I forgot to put in studs for nailing the interior drywall to the corner.

Big pain

Big pain

That won’t be a problem on the right side. I can just put a stud in. But there’s an electric box mounted to the left, with a lot of cables stapled in place. Putting in a stud would mean pulling the box off (which often tears them apart) and resecuring a bunch of cables. Instead, after consulting with one of my advisers, I’m going to rip some small 2X4 pieces down to 2X2s and screw them to the stud at the appropriate spacing to use as nailers for the drywall. That should work just fine.

Finally, I need to get out the reciprocating saw and take out a piece of top plate near the entrance into the basement and put up another plate closer to the existing entryway. It’ll make for a much smoother transition for the drywall there.

And then, I’ll be ready to start hanging. I hope to be able to report significant progress by the end of the weekend.

Inspections and insulation



The inspectors came earlier this week. The plumbing and mechanical passed without issue. The electrical (which is what I did myself) didn’t quite pass, but, thankfully, that wasn’t because I had done anything wrong. It just turned out that steps I thought would be taken after the rough-in inspection needed to be done before. Namely, I need to get the cables for all the circuits actually inside the main and I need to get cables in boxes even where existing switches are going to be replaced and put on different circuits.

I was thinking I’d put in a subpanel for the new circuits, but after consulting with my electrician friend, I decided to put in several half-space breakers in the main instead. I’ve got a total of eight new circuits going in. There are two free spaces on the main panel, plus the current circuit feeding the basement. The inspector confirmed the main panel could handle the load. The only problem is that when I ran the wires, I did so thinking they’d go in a subpanel to the right of the main panel. Instead, since the top breakouts are mostly in use, the wires are going to have to down, over and up through the bottom. I don’t think I left enough length for that in most cases, so I may need to put in a junction box or something. My friend’s coming into consult. Once we get that figured out, I’ll call the inspector back in.

With the inspections essentially done, I worked on insulation this weekend. I had to wear a respirator and long sleeves, which made it hot, sweaty, uncomfortable work.  I ended up with an upper-body rash after. And, of course, I did at least one stupid thing: I bought the pre-cut baffles instead of rolls. That wasn’t the stupid thing. Buying the baffles in the wrong width was. I accidentally picked up two 23-inch wide packages instead of the 15-inch wide I needed. I didn’t figure it out until I opened one package, so I tried cutting them to size. I soon realized I would end up with a lot of waste that way, so I took the unopened package back and bought the correct width.

It worked out, though. There were a couple of places where the studs ended up more than 15-inches apart, and I was able to use the scrap pieces to fill in gaps where the studs were closer together.

I didn’t expect putting up the insulation to be a big deal, and it wasn’t, stupid mistakes aside. But it made a larger difference in the look and feel of the basement than I expected. Suddenly, it started to feel more like a finished room. The quality of the sound down there is even different. I listen to music while I work, and I noticed as I was wrapping up today that the music sounded better. The bass was deeper. The highs were clearer. There was less echo and reflection.

After months of what felt like mostly spinning my wheels with the wiring, with very little sense of progress on the overall project, suddenly, after a day and a half of work, I felt like I’d made a huge jump forward. It’s mostly illusory, I know — both the perceived lack of progress and this weekend’s perceived leap. But, illusion or no, I suddenly feel much closer to the final destination than I have since the framing was completed.

Soon enough, it will be time to start with the drywall. Then I’ll really feel like progress is being made.